Teams playing in the Sun Bowl in recent seasons often have brought long bowl droughts with them and left them at the border, and this year’s game between Miami and Washington State will continue the trend.
Miami (8-4), despite its storied history, hasn’t won a bowl game since 2006, going 0-5 since then. The streak includes a loss to Notre Dame in the 2010 Sun Bowl.
Washington State (8-4), which is in a bowl game for the second time in three years under coach Mike Leach, hasn’t won in the postseason since 2003.
The skid will end for one of these teams Saturday.
“It comes as a surprise,” Hurricanes defensive lineman Calvin Heurtelou said. “The seniors are really trying to go out with something you can remember. I want to win bad, because there’s no other feeling better than winning your last game.”
For Miami, the game also represents an opportunity for an upbeat finish to a season of turmoil.
Coach Al Golden was fired after a 58-0 loss to Clemson. Larry Scott is the interim head coach, but Miami has hired former Georgia coach Mark Richt to take over next season. And Richt has begun to hire assistant coaches, leaving questions about what will happen to members of the current staff after the bowl game.
Still, Miami went 4-1 down the stretch to finish third in the ACC Coastal Division and qualify for a bowl.
“It says a lot about someone’s character,” defensive back Deon Bush said of Scott. “He’s done a great job. We’re a close team, one of the closest bunches I’ve been around. I’m happy that, my senior year, we still fought to try to make this the best season possible.”
Washington State’s road has been different. The Cougars weren’t picked to do much after a 3-9 record last year, but rallied behind seven returning starters on each side of the ball.
And former walk-on Luke Falk excelled at quarterback. He leads the nation’s top-ranked passing offense (397 yards per game) with a nation-leading 4,266 yards and 36 TDs with eight interceptions.
“There’s only a few teams in the country that play that way,” Scott said of the Cougars. “They’re a unique challenge for us.”
Here are some things to know about the 82nd Sun Bowl:
Just as important for WSU was the improvement of its defense. Leach said it was one of the biggest reasons the Cougars finished third in the Pac-12 North behind Stanford and Oregon and are playing in a bowl game.
“I thought they got better as the year went on, especially considering how many young guys we broke in,” he said.
Washington State isn’t the only team that throws. Brad Kaaya leads Miami’s No. 27-ranked pass offense and has thrown for 3,019 yards and 15 TDs with only four interceptions. He has passed such notables as Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde on Miami’s all-time list.
“They’ve got good speed and they’re big up front,” Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “(Kaaya) has done a real nice job directing their offense this year. He’s as talented as anybody in our conference.”
WHAT’S THE TAKEAWAY
One area in which Miami has excelled is turnovers. The Hurricanes are tied for No. 5 in the nation in turnover margin at plus-13. But they will be missing safety Jamal Carter, who was sent home for a violation of team rules.
Challenges are nothing new for Miami. Sophomore offensive lineman Nick Linder said the team has been hardened by them. “Everyone’s playing hard and playing for each other,” he said. “When your back’s up against the wall, you can be submissive or you can come out fighting.”
NICK OF TIME
The Sun Bowl has been played in a snowstorm a few times through its long history. It looks as though this game will miss that, but barely. Showers are expected during the day, with the moisture turning to snow Saturday night. More snow is expected Sunday.
Miami (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4), 11 a.m., El Paso, Texas, Ch. 7
Line: Washington State by 2
Series record: First meeting
What’s at stake: Both teams are looking to end long bowl droughts. Washington State is in its second bowl game in three seasons, but it hasn’t won one since defeating Texas, 28-20, in the 2003 Holiday Bowl. Miami is making its third consecutive bowl appearance, but the Hurricanes haven’t won one since defeating Nevada, 21-20, in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl. Miami is 0-5 in bowl games since then, including a 33-17 loss to Notre Dame in the 2010 Sun Bowl.
Key matchup: Washington State QB Luke Falk vs. the Miami secondary. Falk leads the No. 1 passing offense in the nation, averaging 397 yards. Washington State also has the No. 1 overall offense in the nation at 476.9 yards per game. Miami is No. 64 in pass defense, allowing 223.8 yards per game, and cornerback Artie Burns leads the ACC with six interceptions. But the Hurricanes will be without safety Jamal Carter, who will not play because of a violation of team rules.
Players to watch: Miami — QB Brad Kaaya is fifth on the school’s all-time passing list with 6,217 yards, ahead of Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde. He’s one of only three players nationally to throw for at least 3,000 yards with 10 or more TDs and four or fewer interceptions, and he’s one of only three QBs in Miami history to record consecutive 3,000-yard seasons. Washington State — WR Gabe Marks leads the team with 99 catches for 1,125 yards and 14 TDs, while WR Dom Williams has 73 catches for 997 yards and 11 TDs.
Facts and figures: Miami is tied for fifth in the nation in turnover margin at plus-13, while Washington State is tied at No. 87 at minus-3. … Both teams are making their second appearance in the Sun Bowl. Washington State beat Purdue, 33-27, in 2001. … Miami is 19-19 all-time in bowl games, and Washington State is 6-5. … The Cougars lead the nation in red-zone offense (94.3 percent) and fourth-down conversions (25). … A win would give Miami its ninth nine-win season since 2000. … Miami’s Larry Scott is the interim coach after Al Golden was fired midseason. The Hurricanes have hired former Georgia coach Mark Richt as head coach for next season.
The Associated Press